Here we are at the halfway point of the 2009 regular season for the Arkansas Razorbacks with the team standing at 3-3.
How do the Hogs stack up by position and how will things look in the second half of the regular season?
The main reason this is not an "A" is the injury problems that have plagued the receiver corps and caused a revolving door with guys coming and going throughout the early part of the Hogs' 2009 campaign.
Just as London Crawford and Lucas Miller came back from broken collarbones, Joe Adams went out with a mild stroke. If all of the receivers are ever together this season, the Hogs have the best group, not only in the SEC, but in the nation.
I would like to see more balls thrown D.J. Williams' way, but defenses are determined not to let #45 beat them. In the absence of receptions, D.J. has greatly improved his blocking in 2009. All of these guys block well as evidenced by Jarius Wright's crushing block on the Greg Childs touchdown vs. Florida.
Offensive Line: C
The "big uglies" upfront as Keith Jackson of ABC fame used to call them, have performed adequately. Not spectacular, not terrible. This unit has greatly reduced last year's embarrassing sack total in spite of more pass attempts.
Is this group "gettin' bettuh" as Frank Broyles might say? You bet. I look for the average grade to move up by the end of the season. Ray Dominguez has cut his penalties way down, and Seth Oxner has been solid as he tries to replace UA's best ever at his position. Mitch Petrus has played well at one guard, Wade Grayson has solidified the other and DeMarcus Love has made a successful transition from guard to tackle.
The run blocking needs continued improvement and I believe we will see it in the remainder of the 2009 season.
Running Back: B-
Again, injuries to Michael Smith have effected this mark. First the shoulder, then the hamstring injury have held back the Hogs' Little Big Man.
Dennis Johnson filled in brilliantly against the Gators just as he did in 2008 against LSU. Broderick Green has been better of late after struggling in the redzone early. Part of that was the line, which was still in flux earlier.
Ronnie Wingo and Knile Davis have shown flashes, particularly Wingo on the touchdown in the A&M game.
The future is bright here with or without a certain recruit who appears headed to Auburn.
This could easily be an "A" if not for the Alabama fiasco. Ryan Mallett is still a work in progress as his footwork still causes inaccuracy at times. Mallett has reportedly worked hard on touch passes and it shows.
You've got to love that big right arm. I love Mallett's game other than his lack of great mobility. I like that he doesn't take anything from anyone on the field. Every game, Mallett makes a throw or two that no one else that I've seen in college football can make.
I just wish he had hit Van Stumon in the endzone in Gainesville. Oh well. No QB completes 100%, but Mallett doggedly keeps throwing mud at the wall until some sticks. He will own every record in the UA passing annals before he's done.
Special Teams: C+
The reason this grade is as high as it is is simple. The Hogs have had only one kick blocked, that one after the 'Bama game was pretty much decided.
Dennis Johnson's kickoff returns have been excellent, the 70 yarder against Auburn choked off the attempted Tiger comeback.
The Hog kickoffs have been decent since Cameron Bryan took over kickoff duties. Actually Bryan has been a little better than average with his placement and has shanked none out of bounds since early in the season.
Punt returns have been dismal, but there has only been one muff which Tenarius Wright and Jerry Franklin took care of a couple of plays later with the defensive TD vs. A&M.
Punter Dylan Breeding, an Alabama native, is like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. "Ya nevuh kno' what yer gonna git"
The lack of a punt return game and missed field goals keep the grade from being better. Alex Tejada is 9-11 on the season on three-pointers, but most only remember the two misses in Gainesville, which came at critical times in the game. I'll just leave it at that.
Defensive Line: B
This grade would have been much lower if given right after the games against Georgia and Alabama. Since then, this unit would get an "A". The last three games, this unit has dominated consistently. Malcolm Sheppard and D.D. Jones made Florida's offensive line look soft. Zach Stadther and Patrick Jones have been solid.
Jake Bequette is starting to remind me of Chris Long of Virginia earlier in this decade. Tenarius Wright is a little undersized for an SEC End, but has shown a lot of potential. Adrian Davis and Damario Ambrose are solid. This is starting to shape up as a good SEC defensive line that will continue to get better in the second half of the season.
Other than Jerry Franklin's loss of poise against Georgia, #34 has played well. Wendel Davis is undersized, but has played very well. Jerico Nelson, who plays the hybrid jack linebacker spot, has often been spectacular as against Auburn. The kid can play.
The problem here is there is no depth.
Defensive Backs: Incomplete
This is the hardest grade to give. To give an "F" due to all the big plays would be unfair in my opinion. Ramon Broadway has been victimized, penalized and scrutinized, but has made some plays also.
It should be noted that the penalty on Broadway in the Florida game was bogus. Don't believe me, just read Terrell Owens' Twitter page. Perhaps the most famous receiver in football took the side of the DB in a man bites dog story.
Andru Stewart has been solid and was in line for a big interception against the Gators until Octupus-armed Riley Cooper, a one man offensive interference machine, did his thing, with no flag I might add.
Rudell Crim was burned against 'Bama, but rarely tested deep since. The Crim Reaper is getting better by the game judging by his lack of face time the last three games.
Matt Harris is solid at free safety. Unsung Elton Ford did not play in the Georgia game. When Ford was on the field against Auburn, the Tigers were tamed. When Ford left with an ankle injury early in the 3rd quarter, the Hogs' lead was almost blown like a candle in the wind, going from a score of 34-3 to 34-23.
When he returned, Ford snuffed out the Auburn comeback as Gus Malzahn's high-flying offense was held to 19 yards in the 4th quarter. That should tell you something. Elton Ford, who broke bones in his neck last season, should never have his toughness questioned.
As for the final grade, an incomplete is not an altogether bad grade. For a DB, an incomplete pass is a good thing, for instance. I just feel that this group, like the entire defense, is getting better with every game. The injury to starting field corner Isaac Madison before the season was a blow to this unit, also.
Ramon Broadway was caught peeking into the backfield on the long Florida TD saturday, a no-no in man to man coverage. If this team had Madison and Crim at the corners, it would be a better than average pair, but let's not go all "Nutt-y" with alibis.
You must play with who you have and Crim and Broadway are progressing, along with the rest of the secondary. It will be interesting to see if Darius Winston plays if he gets healthy as he and fellow freshman David Gordon could be a formidable pair in the future.
This team has steadily gotten better by the game since midway last season. John L. Smith has helped the special teams, which were anything but special in 2008.
The players at all positions are improving. How can you give an A- when the record is 3-3? Look no further than the schedule. Two of the losses were to numbers 1 and 2 in the polls, both on the road. Arkansas' opponents are a combined 29-11 with four straight who were unbeaten at the time the games were played.
The last coach would be whining about how the SEC is "so haaaaaaaaaaaaard" and crying about the injuries while Bobby Petrino just goes back to the film room and figures out ways to get the most out of his team.
The reason the grade is not an "A" is the Georgia game and a couple of uncharacteristically conservative playcalls. The run on 4th and 6 against Auburn was blown up from the getgo, and the run on 3rd and 4 in Gainesville was a headscratcher.
If I was calling plays, however, I probably wouldn't agree with many of them in hindsight, so let's not quibble.
We as Arkansas Razorback fans need to get over the incompetent officiating in the Florida game and focus on Ole Miss. The Florida game was a longshot that lost in a photo finish, albeit one taken with a slanted lens.
Ole Miss is a thoroughbred team coached by a jackass. A win over the Rebs could propel the Hogs to an 8-9 win season, a loss could mean 6-6 or 7-5 instead. The stakes are getting higher, too high to drive while looking in the rearview mirror instead of the windshield.